On a clear, blue weekday Thomas Hallowell steps outside his office and has a straight line of sight to New York’s changed skyline. The majestic building known as the Freedom Tower is a reminder of the Army uniform he wore to foreign lands in defense of what once stood in its location. The symbolism is not lost on him.
“You can’t help but to reflect and think how it changed your life … I got 15 souls on my conscious and 51 (wounded soldiers who received) Purple Hearts,” he said.
Hallowell served in every component of the Army from reserve to active to National Guard, deploying four times since Sept. 11, 2001. He’s also experienced the survivor’s guilt attached to losing men, evident from the makeshift memorial of their faces displayed in front of his desk.
Becoming a full-time civilian
The New Jersey-native hung up his ACUs for a final time after 33 years, seven months and 24 days of service, but “who’s counting,” he jokes. Now he dons a hard hat, safety vest and work boots representing an entirely different field: supply chain management. Hallowell says he is thankful for the chance to climb the proverbial ladder — literally and figuratively — in an industry that was once unknown to him.
“I really appreciate companies like APM willing to take a chance with a 50-something year old guy that knows nothing about this business,” he said.
In 2015, Hallowell was hired to work in facilities management for APM Terminals, an international company operating 76 ports and over 100 inland service locations globally, according to its website. He was referred to the company because of its veteran-friendly reputation when his deployment to the Kingdom of Jordan was winding down.
Advice for military job seekers
Switching gears from the military culture to a civilian sector can be daunting, but Hallowell sees a lot of positives in the process. For example, younger veterans interested in travel and adventure should consider a company with a vast footing, like APM Terminals, because of its multiple locations.
“If you’re fresh out of college and want to work in California or Bahrain or anywhere in the world, you can transfer,” he said.
He also recommends researching a workplace’s culture to see if it is a good fit for candidates with military experience, then highlight that veteran status on a cover letter and resume.
His work in the infantry might not be an obvious translation to management, but if a veteran looks close enough at their history, they may find bullet points like leading a platoon of “X” number of soldiers, overseeing weaponry worth “X” amount of dollars or transporting a convoy across “X” number of miles in a high-pressure situation.
In Hallowell’s position, he manages 350 acres of facilities in Elizabeth, New Jersey, ranging from repairing a fence to managing bids to designing new parking lots and more. He also sees other military jobs as a natural crossover to his industry, such as maintenance, logistics, finance and cybersecurity.
A soldier for life
Even though his official military status is now retired, he is conscious of the fact that the Army supplied him with certain skills that make him proficient in day to day life — including one skill that transcends every industry and personal or professional life.
“It literally is establishing, maintaining and building relationships, whether it be teamwork, whether it be union management — without buy in you’re not going to be successful and how do you get that?” Hallowell said. “There are just some things that I find come second nature, whether it be multitasking or attention to detail or how to organize my thoughts, that all came from the military. In Iraq, I was the operations officer so we had 600-plus soldiers and my staff planned their day 24, 365 — over 700 missions done in a year and we planned every one.”
And as valuable as those attributes are that a veteran brings to a civilian employer, Hallowell stresses adapting to life after the transition isn’t always easy.
“So, you’re going to have a Gunnery Sergeant who has a ton of experience, a ton of success and he’s going to go to a financial institution to be a middle manager, whose boss will be half his age. So, it seems to me, once employed, veterans have a wash-out rate because of that frustration. There needs to be an outlet in that company to coach them through that,” he explained.
Hallowell reiterates that by researching and networking with veteran-friendly companies, transitioning service members are more likely to feel like their new workplace’s culture is a fit for them.
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